Krakauer’s book is a brilliant, pulse-racing read. And it carries many neglected lessons.
Perhaps the most powerful – the top of the mountain is only halfway there. As Rob Hall, the leader of Krakauer’s expedition, put it: “Any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down.”
High mountains are wonderful when the sun shines and the summit seems within easy reach. But it only takes a small change in the weather to obscure both the way ahead and the way down. Crucially, the risks do not decrease as you become more experienced. If anything, the opposite is true. In Krakauer’s words: “To succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you are likely to die… When presented with a chance to reach the planet’s highest summit, people are surprisingly quick to abandon good judgement.”
That is why Everest is so dangerous. The parallel with the financial markets almost paints itself. The way up is fun; the way down can be lethal. And experience is no guarantor of survival. This lesson is all the more important after a near 40-year bull market – many investors have only known a market that trends ever-higher, one that, when it goes down, does so only briefly.